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Editorial Advisory Board Q&A: Russian threats to GPS

February 8, 2022  - By
Photo: Stanislav Ostranitsa/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: Stanislav Ostranitsa/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Is Russia’s recent threat to destroy GPS satellites technically realistic? Specifically, how many satellites would it have to destroy to essentially incapacitate GPS-dependent U.S. weapons systems? Would the 1,100-km separation between the orbits of GPS and GLONASS satellites spare the latter from the debris field?

Ellen Hall

Ellen Hall

“It appears technically possible because they destroyed one of their own retired Soviet satellites on Nov. 15 with anti-satellite technology. Russia threatened to destroy up to 32 satellites, which would incapacitate GPS-dependent weapons and create a virtual mine field of debris with little ability to project trajectories of debris fallout. It is imperative that LEO and ground-based sensor alternatives be developed that will make an enemy attack less likely to be incapacitating.”
— Ellen Hall, Spirent Federal Systems

Photo: Mitch Narins“Some still appear to believe that the number of satellites and their orbital height offer some level of protection. They refuse to look to the ground for resilient solutions using proven and highly reliable technology — which, coincidently, both Russia and China continue to operate as their resilient PNT solutions. The United States and its allies cannot continue to be dictated to by financial analysts who resist these solutions for fear of exposing the poor decisions they supported in the past and continue to support regarding a solution with a higher power and low frequency.”
— Mitch Narins, consultant

Bernard Gruber

Bernard Gruber

“Yes, it is technically realistic, but this act of war against a truly worldwide utility would be politically and economically disastrous. GPS IOC was based upon 24 MEO satellites that offered full, but not overlapping, worldwide coverage with spares — there are now 31 satellites that can be utilized through the control segment. The GPS constellation is ~1,100-km deeper than GLONASS. As made evident by the now-destroyed Kosmos 1408 debris cloud simulations, and the actual debris cloud spread by the Chinese 2007 ASAT test that now encompasses most of the LEO regime, the debris field will expand, thus increasing risk to GPS satellite placement and possibly risking physical damage to currently orbited satellites.”
— Bernie Gruber, Northrop Grumman

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About the Author:

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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